When the Munich Security Conference held its inaugural meeting back in 1963, the Cold War was at its zenith. It was only two years since the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had shaken the world with the near miss of nuclear conflict.
In its early incarnation, the conference was a way for a small elite of a few dozen Western defense and security experts to exchange views. Back then, the prime security threat was the Soviet Union and its proxies such as East Germany, which was only a few hundred kilometers away from the Bavarian capital beyond the Iron Curtain that cut right through Germany.
Nowadays the conference, held in the sumptuous Bayerischer Hof hotel, is a much bigger beast. It has morphed into the Davos of the security and defense world.
Attending this year’s conference, which opens Friday afternoon and finishes on Sunday, are more than 600 decision-makers from the realm of international security policy, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Adabi, as well as NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Parliament president Martin Schultz.
This Who’s Who of global security and foreign policy will be discussing the multiplicity of security threats in the globalized world, which is facing what conference director, Wolfgang Ischinger, the veteran German diplomat and former ambassador to the United States, has called “boundless crises.”
Syria will, of course, be top of the agenda. In fact, many of the key international players involved in the nearly five-year war met Thursday night on the fringes of the conference. The International Syria Support Group, made up of 17 countries, including the United States, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, said that they would push for a ceasefire in Syria to start in a week.
Mr. Kerry, speaking alongside his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, said the ceasefire plan was “ambitious” and that the real test would be whether the various parties honored their commitments.
While Syria is undoubtedly at the forefront of everyone’s minds, a myriad of other challenges face an increasingly unstable world. Tensions with Russia over Ukraine, wars in Africa and the Middle East, the refugee crisis, climate change and global pandemics will also be discussed over the weekend, both in a series of speeches and in private meetings.